Mpumalanga Premier and ANC chairperson Thabang Makwetla has announced that he will not stand again for either position, opening the way for supporters of ANC President Jacob Zuma to reclaim control of the province.
Makwetla’s cabinet reshuffle last week appears to have strengthened the hand of the ‘Young Turkâ€ reformers who support the underdog challenger for the top provincial and ANC posts, Lassy Chiwayo, who was appointed mayor of the province’s capital city last month.
The surprise reshuffle by the outgoing Makwetla caught many contenders for the premiership unprepared because it came just weeks before the annual provincial ANC conference in July.
Important ANC swing-voter William Lubisi, who controls a voting block, was axed from the cabinet altogether. Six other provincial ministers have had their portfolios and therefore their access to state influence ‘fine-tunedâ€.
The most significant change was the demotion of the current front-runner in the provincial leadership battle, David Mabuza, from the powerful roads and transport department to the smaller agriculture portfolio.
Current ANC provincial chief whip and outspoken Young Turk, Jackson Mthembu, will take over Mabuza’s position at roads and transport. Mthembu is among Zuma’s most vocal supporters in the province and had served in Mathews Phosa’s government between 1997 and 1999.
Mthembu, Lubisi and Mabuza have all avoided public comment on the reshuffle. But on Tuesday the ANC Youth League rallied to Mabuza’s defence with a stinging attack on the outgoing premier.
Endorsing ‘Hurricane DDâ€ Mabuza as its nominee for ANC chairperson, the league branded the reshuffle as ‘business unusualâ€ and harmful to both the ANC’s internal dynamics and the administration of the provincial government.
‘The ANC resolved, at its 52nd national congress in Polokwane, that while it is the prerogative of the president, premiers and mayors to appoint and release their executive councillors, this right should only be exercised after consulting the organisation’s leadership,â€ says league provincial secretary, Isaac Mahlangu.
‘We sit in both the ANC provincial executive committee and the ANC provincial working committee and we do not recollect any discussion or consultation about any reshuffle.â€
Mahlangu says the league is therefore formally demanding that the shuffle be reversed, with Lubisi restored to cabinet and Mabuza given back his old portfolio.
Insiders close to the premier say the reshuffle forms part of his legacy programme and is designed to protect or enhance ‘leaders of integrityâ€ and to discipline those who have consistently failed to deliver or who were abusing their portfolios for personal gain.
Makwetla’s spokesperson, Ntime Skosana, on Wednesday refused to speculate on the motives behind the reshuffle, but acknowledged that the premier would be standing down from his positions.
‘Makwetla has always viewed his premiership as ‘borrowed time’ and has therefore strived to lead with integrity even when that meant being unpopular. He knows he will not be returning and is happy to go wherever the party redeploys him,â€ said Skosana.
Although Chiwayo also refuses to speak on the leadership race, he has spoken out strongly on the need for integrity in politics. ‘I — and everyone in positions such as mine — need to lead by example and be absolutely above reproach. Greed and the abuse of our access to power are what created the rot in Mbombela and elsewhere in government. It is beginning to eat into the soul of the local ANC and to erode what the party stands for and what people died fighting for,â€ said Chiwayo.
‘I am therefore putting my business interests in a blind trust so there is no danger of patronage. I will also sacrifice my salary as mayor. I am not in this for the money.â€ — African Eye News Service